Mother’s Day has always been special in the Genung household.
Three generations of women are among those who will gather Sunday in Scottsdale as they do every year to celebrate the holiday, each other and, most important, life itself.
The Genungs have a history of breast cancer. Ava Genung, a second-grade teacher at Desert Shadows Elementary School in the Paradise Valley Unified School District, was diagnosed five years ago. Her condition — diagnosed at an extremely early stage — was treated through a lumpectomy and radiation therapy.
She hopes to be finished with medication by the end of summer.
Her mother-in-law, Lyle Genung of Tucson, was diagnosed six months earlier. She underwent a mastectomy but didn’t go through chemotherapy because she wanted to preserve her strength to take care of her ailing husband. Cancer has started to metastasize throughout her body.
Lyle Genung’s mother, Darthea Morrison, had a double mastectomy in the 1930s.
Ava Genung and her daughters, Jacque Genung-Koch of Scottsdale and Jenny Gillespie of Avondale, are preparing for the Phoenix Breast Cancer 3-Day walk this fall to benefit the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and the National Philanthropic Trust. They don’t train together but are collaborating to try to raise the $2,000 each needs to be in the event.
Participants will walk 60 miles — 20 each day — Oct. 22-24 from Rawhide Western Town in north Scottsdale to a yet-to-be-determined location in Tempe to increase breast cancer awareness and raise money for research and community outreach programs. The Arizona walk is one of 10 scheduled around the country.
"This is totally not like us," Gillespie, 23, said. "We have never been outdoors people. We have to stay in tents overnight, and that should be fun. It’s a bold statement for our family. Grandma wants to do it, but she can’t. Especially my sister and I want to do it to get the word out to our age group. Mom suggested we do it with her and we loved the idea."
Ava Genung, who said she wants to do all she can to help fight the disease, was hit hard when diagnosed.
"One day you feel fine and the next day you are diagnosed with breast cancer," Genung, 53, said. "You suddenly realize that this can happen to anybody. It’s amazing the way the diagnosis changes your perspective. I guess the one positive I can attribute to the disease is the way it forces you to relish life. I had about two minutes of self pity. There were so many people who called, wrote, emailed and sent cards when they found out. You become strong. You have no choice."
Gillespie, who has worked as a closer in the mortgage industry until recently, said her mother’s diagnosis brought more than strength to the family.
"It was horrible, especially with my grandparents being sick, then mom," she said. "Our family basically fell apart, but mom’s diagnosis seemed to change that. It brought us closer. Our health is not a hush-hush thing anymore."
Genung-Koch, a 26-yearold dance teacher, was an exchange student in Australia when she got the news. Recalling the moment brings tears to her eyes.
"I was in a foreign country. I couldn’t be there to support her," Genung-Koch said. "She sounded so strong. She said, ‘Don’t come home. Stay there. I can do this.’ It was extremely difficult and painful. But, mom was strong. That was the difference."
Genung hopes she and her daughters can make a difference as they train for the walk. "There are no more bad days as long as everyone you know and love is healthy, which is why I walk," Genung said. "I see it as a way to raise awareness and an opportunity to give something back to all women, especially my daughters who have a lineage on both sides of the family.
"My daughters are aware how this disease can attack, They know their chances (of being diagnosed) are pretty high. Instead of waiting until their 40s for a mammogram, they need to do it sooner."
Nervousness will be put aside on Mother’s Day. The talk will be about hope — and the walk.
"We appreciate my mom and my grandmother so much," Genung-Koch said. "A day like Mother’s Day is special in our family. You take for granted that your mom will be there. Something like this opens your eyes to reality. I love my mom. Knowing she could go at any time, my grandmother as well . . ."
Genung-Koch didn’t have to finish the thought. Her passion for her mother and grandmother, and wanting to help find a cure for breast cancer come across. All three continue to raise money for the walk, Genung through donations, Genung-Koch by selling a line of pink clothing — www.pinksparkles.com — and Gillespie by asking friends and colleagues for donations.
To help the Genung women reach their goal, make a donation to their donation pages at www.The3Day.org. To learn how to participate or volunteer for the event, visit the Web site or call (800) 825-1000.